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Tips for Setting a Holiday Custody Schedule

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Every stepmom I know heaves a giant sigh of relief when the holiday custody schedule is agreed upon each year. It can be a spot of contention, and reaching an agreement brings so much relief to all involved. In our family, it’s often when I can really let my hair down, enjoy a cup of hot cocoa, and crank the holiday music up loud.

It’s not usually as simple as determining who will have the kids on December 25th. Usually, there are many more factors to consider before finalizing a holiday schedule. Some stepfamilies want to limit the number of exchanges; others prioritize seeing their children on the actual holiday and choose to split the day.

No matter what is most important to you, we will talk through a variety of child custody holiday schedule examples and factors to consider before deciding which is the best fit for you and your family!

Factors to Consider when Setting your Holiday Custody Schedule


How far away do you and the other parent live from each other? This will have a direct impact on your holiday if there’s a long commute between homes.

My husband’s ex lives 10 minutes from us now, so we’re able to switch off on a holiday day without much interruption. Growing up, my dad lived across the country; my parents splitting any holiday day was impractical.


How old is the child? Are they so young they won’t recognize what day it is? Or a surly teenager who isn’t as excited about opening presents on a certain day?

Or maybe the child is at the perfect age where the holidays are still magical and both parents definitely want to celebrate in the moment.

Family Traditions and Celebrations

When does your family celebrate? And the other family? These should be taken into account when creating a holiday custody schedule.

Does one family have tons of traditions, and the other mostly relaxes at home? Where would the kids want to be?

Is one parent visiting with extended family and the child would have the opportunity to hang out with cousins and other family members? It may make sense to coordinate a plan around those happenings. I won’t recommend having the schedule completely revolve around the child with little regard for the impact on the parents, but it should certainly be a factor.

Co-Parent Relationship

If you’re in a high-conflict situation, it would not be helpful to designate a holiday custody schedule that requires a lot of communication and cooperation.

Whereas, when things are friendly, perhaps you’d go the opposite way and celebrate together or at least, create a schedule with more coordination.

Definitely factor in the co-parent relationship before setting a holiday schedule.

Travel Plans

Do you ever want flexibility with your schedule to visit your family in another state? Or to take a ski trip? If so, I highly recommend taking those future plans into consideration when you agree on a holiday custody schedule.

With our current schedule, the only way I can spend Christmas Day with my family is if they travel to me, or if I celebrate at their home without my husband and stepdaughter (which is not an option for me).

Consider what’s important to you before deciding on a holiday visitation schedule.

Child Custody Holiday Schedule Examples

Splitting the Break

A common schedule for many co-parents who are looking for an option with little back-and-forth is splitting the school holiday break in two. The child will be with Parent A from the time school releases to a designated day (often December 25, 28, or 31, depending on when school lets out), and with Parent B for the second half of the break.

If the transition doesn’t happen on the holiday, it’s customary to allow for a block of time on the day of the holiday for Parent B to spend time with the child to celebrate.

Often with this arrangement, the schedule alternates so that whomever had the first part of the break this year, will have the second part of the break next year.

Splitting the Day

Another option is to split the day. Parent A will have the child until a designated hour (usually around 2 pm), and Parent B will have the child after that. This allows both sides of the family to celebrate with the child on the holiday.

This is not always the best option when families don’t live near each other or there’s a lot of tension among co-parents.

Alternating the Day

Sometimes, co-parents alternate days. In odd years, Parent A will take Christmas Eve, and Parent B will take Christmas Day, for example. In even years, it would swap.

This can feel disappointing if you are celebrating a holiday without your child. Here are some tips if you don’t have your child on December 25th.

Designating a Day

Some families prefer to have a set day each year. This often means one family will always celebrate on Christmas Eve, and the other will always celebrate on Christmas Day.

While this child custody holiday schedule means you’ll consistently miss out on one holiday day every year, it offers the benefit of a reliable schedule for future plans.

Something Totally Custom

Perhaps there’s a solution that works better for you that requires thinking more outside the box.

Our schedule is as follows: Krista is with her mom Christmas Eve until 7 pm, and then she is with us until 1 pm on Christmas Day. She then goes with her mom until 10 am the following day.

This is a schedule that requires a lot of back-and-forth, but it works well for us because Krista’s mom celebrates with her parents on Christmas Eve, Kevin’s family plans a full Christmas Eve evening and Christmas morning, and then Krista’s mom celebrates with her grandparents and extended family Christmas afternoon. Our Christmas schedule lets Krista be part of all of those celebrations and see all of her family.

It works well for us, but it likely wouldn’t work for other stepfamilies. When you consider your situation, there may be a custom solution that’s perfect for your family as well.

Celebrate Together

When you have a very friendly co-parenting relationship, it may make sense to celebrate all together as one larger family, so you don’t have to trade off days.

That being said, if this isn’t something you’re comfortable with, that’s all right too. You are always allowed to say “no.”

There’s no right or wrong answer.

The best solution is the one that works for your family. Determine the schedule that works best for you, given the factors that are most important. Other people’s opinions should hold little weight when it comes to your child custody schedule.

P.S. Having trouble keeping track of your custody schedule? It might be time for a co-parenting app to share across homes!

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